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Thank You, Next: Recognize Red Flags in a Job Description

Here are some tips on how to spot potential red flags in a job description – and then a few signs that a job and work place are good.

Have you ever taken a job, only to find nearly from the first day that the position is not for you?

There are few more dispiriting and problematic situations on the job front.

Not only do you have to go through the job search process again, but you are on the horns of a dilemma.

Should you stick it out and risk it becoming worse? If not, you need to strategize an explanation to new employers about why you’re leaving so soon.

Or, disillusionment with a job can happen over time. You gradually begin to see that the position, your colleagues, or the company – or all three – are not what you hoped.

There is a solution! It’s learning to read job descriptions for red flags. While job descriptions are designed to let job seekers know the duties and requirements of the job, what they say and how they are written can reveal much more to the savvy job seeker.

Here are some tips on how to spot potential red flags in a job description – and then a few signs that a job and work place are good.

Job Description Red Flags

1. Double, conflicting, or unclear titles or descriptors.

The entire job description for senior-level roles, including the title, should provide a clear sense of what your responsibilities are, along with the qualifications and experience required.

Be very wary if double titles are given, or if the descriptions are conflicting or unclear. We’re talking about fancy footwork like “Marketing Head/Sales Lead Ninja” in the title, or “responsibilities include maximizing team growth and revenue projections.” In the first instance, marketing and sales are usually different departments and functions. In the second, growing a team and revenue projections are quite separate skill sets. It also implies the company may be linking team growth and revenue in a way that can be difficult to fulfill.

Double responsibilities can occur if companies are small, of course. But they can also happen, more seriously, if companies aren’t clear about what position they are recruiting for, if they have serious holes in their leadership coverage, or if they are hoping to bring people in for multiple roles, and willing to let the chips fall where they may once the new recruits actually arrive.

If any of these things are occurring, the end result is the same for you. There’s no formula for success, and there are plenty of ways to be perceived as not succeeding in the job. Do they want a marketing head? Or a sales lead generator? You’re not sure, and neither are they.

2. Wording that indicates lack of work-life balance

Pay close attention to the wording used in job descriptions. Why? Because it can be very revealing. If a job is described as “fast-paced,” “high pressure,” or uses phrases like “looking for top competitors,” it can be a sign that a lack of work-life balance is in the offing. Words like these are often used by companies who want their employees working long days and nights, plus weekends.

A job description of this type can be a red flag even for those who like working 24/7. It can be a sign that the company has far too much work for the people on board, that they are having difficulty meeting goals, or that they are disorganized – or all three.

3. Constant reappearance.

If you’re engaged in the type of long-term search that senior positions often require, you may see (or hear about) positions reappearing shortly after they’ve been filled, several times.

Such an event is a big red flag, no matter what the job description says. It indicates that the job wasn’t doable or that people chosen for it found it very unattractive in some way.

Positive Signs to Look For in a Job Description

So what are some good signs in a job description?

1. Clarity in the job title and description.

Just as unclear job descriptions are negative signs, clarity in the job title and descriptions is a very good sign. A vice president of marketing title combined with a standard outline and qualifications for such a position is a go-ahead light.

2. A description of the company itself.

Job descriptions should include a thumbnail description of the company. “Entrepreneurial organization with footprint in emerging markets” or “established company with deep local roots” both give you a sense of what you will find.

Why is that important? Well, company culture matters to your success. You need a sense of your own fit and thus your chances of success.

In a larger sense, it also indicates that the company sees your employment as a two-way street: you deserve information as well as having to supply it. A two-way street is a positive sign for the future.

3. Information about benefits up-front.

A strong job description will let you know what the company offers to successful applicants as well as what the company requires.

Phrases such as “robust benefits, including matching 401(k) and full health insurance coverage” don’t tell you what will be asked of you, but they are signs that the company cares about their employees and what they need. That’s a good sign in any employer.

One of the tasks in any job search needs to be analyzing job descriptions for potential red flags – and looking for signs that the job will be positive for you.


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About the Author

Rita Williams is a freelance writer on a wide range of topics, including careers, human resources trends and personal finance. She works with both job-seekers and companies to educate and inform them about best practices – and shows humor and understanding while doing it.